Posted by: thedirtybaker | February 9, 2012

College Students and Adulthood

They are old enough to vote for local and national leaders, and old enough to serve and die for their country.  But are college students adults, and should they be treated as responsible adults by faculty?

From a legal perspective, of course they should.  Colleges were once seen as  in loco parentis (complete with curfews, dorm parents, etc.), and could even order students not to go to certain restaurants.   That was phased out in the 1960s, as Baby Boomers demanded to be treated like adults (and could be drafted to serve in Vietnam).  Public colleges today allow students the freedoms to do whatever they want to do; while there are rules, they are mostly legal (dealing with theft, underage drinking, etc.) rather than parental.

At the same time, though, current college students are more emotionally dependent on their parents than were previous generations.  Phones were placed in each dorm room in the late 80s, and allowed parents and students to talk more often and more privately.  Now, cell phones allow parents and students to talk to each other almost anytime and anywhere, and have diminished people’s’ patience for delays in calling back.  This means that parents are talking and texting with their college students several times/ day.

Helicopter parents are very protective of their children, from pre-school through high school, and into college.  Young children’s lives are managed by their easily alarmed parents; they are scheduled with activities most afternoons and evenings, spend little to no time running around the neighborhood  in packs, little time playing independently, and are rarely permitted to learn to work things out among their peers without adult intervention.  They rarely entertain themselves, or even fix their own afterschool snacks.

In school, parents are closely involved through high school. Parents are expected by schools to sign off on their younger students’ homework (I don’t know how high up that lasts), and to help kids with daily homework – not only if the kids have trouble understanding it.  In high school, some are still helping with homework, and most are checking students’ grades on each assignment online.  Some parents refuse to pay tuition for college students unless they get the kids’ password to check on their grades.  Children have their delicate egos and self-esteem nurtured and protected by parents, leading parents to argue with teachers – from grade school through college – when the students don’t earn good grades.  They object to teachers grading in red ink.  While supporting one’s children is part of a parent’s job, and advocating for students who have difficulties is the right thing to do, it’s going too far.

Kids aren’t learning personal responsibility or self-regulation in high school.  They don’t know how to break down projects into reasonable steps, or how to prioritize activities and tasks, whether academic, employment-based, or social.  They don’t understand that they can’t go to a party because they need to study all weekend, that they can’t be involved in every activity that interests them if they want to do well in school, that they need to study until they master the material, and that they need to proofread their own work. Some still send their papers to their parents for editing.  Many don’t understand that the rules apply to them, that they can fail, and that it will have consequences, because their parents have intervened to protect them from negative consequences in the past.

Accordingly, some university instructors treat the students like children.  Instead of “Do the required work, come to class, and master the material,” they add busy work.  They track attendance, lower the requirements, give more assignments that are each worth fewer points, and offer a lot of extra credit.  They spoon feed the information, fail to demand critical thinking,  and don’t grade on writing skills, because students are lacking those.  They grade on effort instead of on mastery.  This continues a cycle wherein students don’t have to grow up, think independently, or self-regulate, or be responsible for themselves.

This brings me back to the question:  Should colleges/ universities treat students like children because they don’t act like adults, so that fewer will suffer the negative consequences of their immaturity?   Or should they treat them as adults and force them to take the consequences and grow up?


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